WHO makes it official: Young folks can get addicted to video gaming

avgames-300x174Electronic devices can pose risks to the health and well-being of global users: Specifically, some preoccupied players now officially may be deemed video game addicts, says WHO.

WHO, of course, is the well-respected World Health Organization, which just made  “gaming disorder” a part of its International Classification of Diseases, a key compendium of medical conditions. The ICD, the Los Angeles Times reported, is important because

[It] gives medical professionals around the world a single standard for identifying a problematic medical or behavioral issue and accepting it as a disorder worthy of attention and treatment. Despite differing languages and social, cultural and medical traditions, the WHO’s 191 member nations recognize these common definitions of diseases. In addition, the classification codes are the foundation for health insurance billing in the United States. The absence of a diagnostic code makes it difficult for a healthcare professional to treat a patient and then get paid for that treatment.

Skepticism abounded about the world body’s addiction designation for video games, which WHO said have become an issue in select areas, including in China, where as many as 10 percent of 12- to 20-year-olds see their everyday function disrupted by excessive gaming. In the United States, 1-2 percent of youths may struggle to keep in appropriate perspective their video game use. That’s millions of teens.

But American psychiatrists and youth and mental health experts have been wary of going so far to call gaming an addiction. The American Psychiatric Association has drafted criteria for its influential work on mental conditions, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, for a disruptive internet gaming disorder, the Los Angeles Times reported:

A draft diagnostic description for internet gaming disorder would require a determination that persistent gaming had caused a person to have ‘significant issues with functioning.’ It also calls for five of the following symptoms to be present: A preoccupation or obsession with internet games. Withdrawal symptoms when not playing games. A tolerance for gaming, so that a person needs to spend more time playing to be satisfied. At least one failed attempt to stop or cut back on playing games. A loss of interest in other life activities. Overuse of digital games despite realizing the impairment they have caused. Lying to others about game usage. Using gaming to escape or relieve anxiety or guilt. Relationships have been lost or risked because of gaming.

American experts say they’re unready to define video game addiction as a major disorder, partly until they can sort it out from other mental conditions harming the young and they can be confident it can be treated. WHO has said this addiction may appear with other negatives, including mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and antisocial behavior. Experts treat addictions and other mental disorders with psychotherapy and CBT or cognitive behavior therapy, which aims to disrupt harmful patients’ patterns of thinking and acting.

Part of some critics’ concerns about WHO’s addiction designation for video gaming focuses on its use of excess playing time as a key factor. They argue that many young people exhibit enthusiasms for various practices and behaviors while growing up and they’re successful in the lives while doing so, for example, balancing 10-, 15- or even 20-hours-a-week of gaming without damaging their school, work, or personal lives.

The gaming industry has pushed back hard at WHO — with big economic reasons to do so, as the New York Times reported:

Around the world, 2.6 billion people play video games, including two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Annual revenue for the industry is expected to grow 31 percent to $180.1 billion globally within three yearsFortnite — the latest blockbuster, in which players battle to be the last one standing in an apocalyptic storm — recently earned a reported $300 million in a month.

In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, including their struggles to access and afford safe, effective, and excellent mental health care that’s underfunded and far too spare. U.S. mental health experts may have points to discuss with WHO about video game addiction. But it’s good to know that harried parents may have a respected ally as they seek to raise real concerns about the children and the gaming industry’s unchecked churning out of products rife with misogyny, sexism, racism, bullying, ultra-violence, and nihilism. Parents, whether in Des Moines or Seoul, have reason to be frantic when their beloved kids disappear into cyber fantasy, for long periods and at all hours of the day and night. If for no other reason than the harms that can be caused to developing teens by sleeplessness, video games and e-devices cannot be ignored as a kind of youth menace.

Moms and dads in the nation’s capital and in surrounding areas may be enjoying summer fun with their vacationing youngsters. They also should get them outdoors, exercising, socializing, and with “diets” and curbs for the season — and the school year — on their electronics. You don’t need to ask WHO says and why.

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